Meet the Founders of

Don Spear, President & CEO

With more than 25 years of experience in starting and growing companies, Don served at PetSmart in senior officer and director positions from its founding through IPO. Don also served as President of Banfield, the Pet Hospital, where he led its expansion from 4 to 250 pet hospitals. More recently, Don co-founded BlueVolt (, a successful elearning company focused on the manufacturing and distribution markets.

Joshua Blank, Senior Vice President & General Manager

Josh has an extensive background in technology and software development. After co-founding PopArt, an Internet services agency and Eleven Wireless, a broadband network management system focused on the hospitality market, Josh co-founded BlueVolt with Don. Josh architected and oversaw development of BlueVolt’s web-based software products including its flagship product, the BlueVolt learning management system.

Tom Turnbull, Vice President, Business and Community Development

Tom has worked in business development, product, and legal roles at several Internet companies, including Internet Brands (NASDAQ: INET), SplashCast Media, and the Los Angeles Times. Additionally, Tom led new business development for Knowledge Universe, the largest privately held for-profit education company. Tom previously worked as an associate attorney with Williams Kastner and a consulting manager with Arthur Andersen.

Aaron Bridges, Lead Software Engineer

Aaron has ten years of experience in software engineering and design, in addition to industry-specific experience designing and managing elearning platforms. As an OpenSesame co-founder, Aaron designed OpenSesame’s patent-pending platform technology. Aaron joined BlueVolt in 2002 as an Application Developer and rose through the ranks to Product Development Manager, leading the team that designed and built the BlueVolt elearning platform product.

What are you working on right now?

Don Spear (DS): In November 2010 the four of us founded OpenSesame ( an online marketplace for elearning content. Our mission is to make it as easy to buy and sell elearning courses as it is to buy a song on iTunes. We recently completed a $2 million seed funding round, so right now we’re focused on accelerating growth of our marketplace by attracting course buyers and sellers, hiring more great people, and adding new features to the site. These new features will make it easier to find courses and share them with diverse groups.

What does your typical day look like?

Tom Turnbull (TT): The OpenSesame team sits in one big room, because we value collaboration, paired engineering and open sharing of ideas. We all have our own workspace, but we spend a good chunk of every day working together, whether it’s brainstorming what a new feature should look like or pairing to write code. We make decisions thoughtfully and then move quickly. We also value Mongolian BBQ, bagels and burritos – Chipotle is our favorite.

3 trends that excite you?

Josh Blank (JB): Unconventional educators. I’m excited to see new content authoring tools enabling all kinds of subject matter experts to create elearning content. No longer is teaching limited to traditional teachers or traditional course developers. With the affordable and easy-to-use authoring tools available today, everyone can share their expertise.

Aaron Bridges (AB): Mobile technology. I’m excited to see learning content developed specifically for mobile devices that will enable people to find information and apply it within the context of their everyday jobs.

TT: Social learning. I love learning about the ways people are building professional learning networks through social media – it brings new skills into reach for a wide variety of people.

How do you bring ideas to life?

JB: We have great, talented people and a commitment to bringing big ideas to life. The challenge for us is prioritizing our many new ideas to decide what we’re going to do next. To make these difficult decisions, we work with our team, our advisory group and, most importantly, use social media and meet-ups to ask our customers what they need.

What inspires you?

DS: We are inspired by the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who want to get better at their jobs through professional training. It’s our goal to make learning and development accessible, easy and affordable, for everyone, anywhere.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

AB: Through ten years of working together in a variety of startups and technology companies, we’ve learned to simplify everything: Our product, our business model and our relationships with customers. In previous businesses, we’ve created a customized solution for every customer. That is an excellent service model, but it makes it difficult to keep each and every customer satisfied over time. Our straightforward and consistent business model means our customers know what to expect and our communications with customers are simple. This enables us to scale up our business quickly and ensure consistent, high-quality customer service.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

AB: Something that’s missing in the marketplace right now is a platform that facilitates payment flow between vendors and customers, especially between very large corporations and small or start-up businesses. We spend valuable time generating sales orders, purchase orders, estimates, quotes, and invoices to meet both customers’ and vendors’ requirements before even sending or receiving payment. We would welcome the opportunity to use a service that automated the paper trail and let us focus on what we do best.

What do you read every day? Why?

JB: TechCrunch and Gizmodo. Keeping up with technology and startup business trends inspires new ideas and new features on OpenSesame.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

DS: I have a copy of The Daily Drucker by Peter Drucker on my desk, and I apply his advice to making management decisions. Everyone who is founding and building new businesses should read Drucker to understand how to incorporate long-term goals into every day actions.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

JB: Google Apps make us more productive. We share information, collaborate on projects and work from anywhere, easily. This saves time and money.

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

TT: I would love to hear more from Salman Khan of the Khan Academy, who is making free, online, world-class educational resources accessible to anyone..

Why did you found OpenSesame?

DS: My co-founding partners and I created OpenSesame after 10 years in the elearning business, working with learners, professional associations and companies that connect their employees to learning and development programs. We discovered that the one of the largest roadblocks preventing the growth of elearning was the difficulty of finding, selecting and using high quality courses. We considered different ways to connect buyers and sellers, and decided to apply the iTunes digital content marketplace model to create OpenSesame.

What’s your favorite movie and why?

JB: My favorite movie is Top Gun, and I’m celebrating the 25th anniversary of this classic. I am inspired by Maverick’s ambition, dedication and unconventional approach to solving hard problems.


Please read our blog, connect with us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. You’re also welcome to connect with any of the four founders on LinkedIn.

[box size=”small” border=”full”]This interview was brought to you by Rohit Jain who works in business development. You can follow Rohit via his blog and on Twitter. [/box]